Educational Games: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Educational Games: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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By: Aleksi Siirtola, Head Learning Developer at TeacherGaming

What makes a game educational or entertaining? Can a game be both good entertainment and a true learning asset? Read on below for some examples of the greatest learning games, the decidedly mediocre ones and games that are not suited to the classroom at all.

The Good

Civilization V

Some truly inspiring games manage a perfect union of entertainment and learning. Games such as
KerbalEdu, Universe Sandbox ², and Civilization V are all bestselling commercial products and truly engaging opportunities for learning.

KerbalEdu not only features rocket-building, Newtonian physics and orbital mechanics, but is fun to play. Pedagogically, its strategies are sound: you are taught not to be afraid of failure. Calculated wrong and your rocket blew up? Rewind time so you can fine-tune your design. Reached the Moon? There are still plenty of challenges left: just reach a farther planetary body.

Universe Sandbox ² deals in similar subject matters as KerbalEdubut takes an entirely different approach. What if you could manipulate anything in the universe? If your students need to learn about the effects of global warming, just use the temperature slider for a real-time visual representation. Want to build your very own star system? Look no further.

Civilization V is a thought-provoking and complex digital board game that simulates the entirety of human history on a macro scale. You found cities, make scientific discoveries, explore uncharted territories and conduct diplomacy. The greatest educational assets of the game are its open-ended, exciting gameplay and the opportunity to understand difficult choices that leaders must make.

The Bad

Generic Learning Game

Conventionally, “learning games” has been a concept worthy of an audible groan in the classroom. There were games that people played for fun, and learning games, low-budget atrocities with limited amounts of content, poor production values and, almost without fail, thoroughly unentertaining gameplay.

These kinds of games still exist, but luckily they are no longer the de facto mold when learning products are games. Occasionally, the best educational games are originally not even designed with education in mind, such as Minecraft or the aforementioned Civilization V, but turn out to have such potential anyway. Games designed for learning from the get-go are now made with higher production values than ever, primarily due to stiff competition in the education market.

The Ugly

Call of Duty

Some games are truly not meant for the classroom. While some game series, such as Call of Duty and Battlefield, remain steadfastly popular throughout the years (even among the underaged population), they should never enter classroom education. Not only are these games graphically violent and built around it, they are often unrepentantly unrealistic, sacrificing authentic representation for fluid gameplay.

While shooting, racing and fighting games have been shown to improve hand-eye coordination and various other skills, you would be hard-pressed to find links to the curriculum in them. What’s more, only racing games would be age-appropriate in most classrooms! This is not to say that students should necessarily be discouraged from playing these games, it’s just that there are far superior choices available for teaching.

We know what you're thinking. “But how do I know if a game is any good for teaching?”

Being an early adopter and innovator is never easy. How will you know whether a game is good unless if you either use it yourself or hear great things about it from sources you trust? The best place to start is anywhere where you can try a learning game for free, even if it’s for a limited time. Another thing to keep in mind is to look for the deal with the best value!